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Winter 1997
The Landscape of Destiny
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The objection to such racist explanations is not just that they are loathsome, but also that they are wrong. Sound evidence for the existence of human differences in intelligence that parallel human differences in technology is lacking. In fact, modern "Stone Age" peoples are on the average probably more intelligent, not less intelligent, than industrialized peoples. Paradoxical as it may sound, white immigrants to Australia do not deserve the credit usually accorded to them for building a literate industrialized society. In addition, people who until recently were technologically primitive -- such as Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans -- routinely master industrial technologies when given opportunities to do so.

Nevertheless, we have to wonder. We keep seeing all those glaring, persistent differences in people's status. We're assured that the seemingly transparent biological explanation for the world's inequalities as of A.D. 1500 is wrong, but we're not told what the correct explanation is. Until we have some convincing, detailed, agreed-upon explanation for the broad pattern of history, most people will continue to suspect that the racist biological explanation is correct after all.

Yet the truth, simply stated, is that history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.

Naturally, the notion that environmental geography and biogeography influenced societal developments is an old idea. Nowadays, though, the view is not held in esteem by historians. It is considered wrong or simplistic, or it is caricatured as environmental determinism and dismissed, or else the whole subject of trying to understand worldwide differences is shelved as too difficult. Yet geography obviously has some effect on history. The open question concerns how much effect, and whether geography can account for history's broad pattern.

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